Tamale Pie

Tamale Pie is a delicious and easy recipe to make! It’s a great way to use leftover chili and is perfect for large groups, too! It consists of seasoned beef, topped with a light and flavorful “tamale” mixture and a little cheese for garnish!

And if you don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen making tamales, this is the next best, and quick thing way to satisfy that Mexican food or Tex-Mex craving!

Tamale pie on plate with tortilla chips and avocado.

This vintage Southwestern “Santa Fe Tamale Pie”  recipe hails from the “Family Weekly” newspaper, March 10, 1974, but versions of this began to pop up around the 1950’s. It’s an “old school” tamale pie recipe that I decided to add a little spin to it…it turned out delicious!

What is Tamale Pie?

It’s not really a “pie,” but more of a tamale casserole, for lack of a better description. This Mexican casserole consists of ground beef, which is seasoned with chili powder and cumin, topped with a “tamale” cornmeal mixture, shredded cheddar cheese, then baked. 

The cornmeal topping is not “cornbread“- it’s cooked cornmeal that has an added (secret) ingredient to achieve that real “tamale” flavor. Read on to see the secret ingredient!

I suppose it’s an easier way of getting that “tamale” flavor and texture than using Masa Harina flour–which is the flour used to make tamales.

You’ll love this recipe!

  • Quick and easy – use leftover chili or canned chili
  • Best flavor – the secret ingredient gives regular cornmeal that “tamale” flavor!
  • Gluten-free – a good Mexican food alternative, especially if you’re trying to stay away from gluten. Since cornmeal does not contain gluten, so it is safe for those with gluten sensitivities or allergies
  • Versatile – make it as mild or spicy as you like

Serve tamale pie with avocado or guacamole, a green salad, black beans and a cold margarita!

Here’s what you’ll need

This Tex-Mex tamale pie comes together in no time with just a little leftover chili and a few other simple ingredients. 

Leftover chili, yellow cornmeal, Sazon Goya Coriander & Annatto seasoning, shredded cheddar cheese, salt and pepper.

How to make it

This is an overview of how to make tamale pie. Please see the recipe card below for exact ingredients and measurements.

  • Make a batch of homemade chili or if you’re short on time, use leftover chili or a high-quality canned or frozen chili
  • Make the cornmeal mixture, which is the “tamale” part of the recipe
  • Place a layer of cornmeal in a pan, scoop some chili over the cornmeal
  • Add another layer of cornmeal, and finish with a light layer of cheese! 
  • Bake uncovered and serve 

This Mexican dish is a family favorite and ready in minutes and pairs beautifully with Tex-Mex Chilie con Queso, Ranchero Sauce or Creamy Avocado dip.

Recipe tips

Bring the 6 cups of water to a boil first

Combine the ice cold water and cornmeal in a bowl and carefully pour it into the boiling water

Use a long-handled wooden spoon to stir the cornmeal and stand back – it pops and bubbles as it thickens

Type of ground beef

You can use ground beef or, if you prefer a leaner version, use ground turkey. I usually use a ground beef that is 80/20–meaning it has 20% fat. No matter what grade of beef you use, you’ll want to drain off any residue.

Make in advance

Yes, simply cook the chili and store in the refrigerator. When ready to prepare, make the tamale/cornmeal mixture, layer the baking dish with cold chili, then bake.

Do I need a pie dish to make this recipe?

No. This easy Tamale Pie Recipe can also be made in a 9 x 13 baking dish. I used two pie plates for this recipe because my 9 x 13 was in the dishwasher!!!

Serving suggestions

This dish is really a one-bowl meal, but if you want to add a side dish, you can never go wrong with chips, guacamole or a nice green salad, perhaps some easy Mexican rice, refried or black beans.

What Is Sazon Goya and where do I find it?

Sazon Goya® is a brand that makes seasonings specific to Mexican dishes. This IS the secret ingredient in making the best tamale pie recipe…It tastes more authentic than many other recipes.

The seasonings used in this recipe are usually found in the International or Mexican section of your local grocer.

Storage and reheating instructions

Store your Mexican tamale pie leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat previously cooked tamale pie in a 325ºF oven, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes or, heat individual portions in the microwave.

Tamale Pie on plate with sliced avocado and tortilla chips.

This quick and easy tamale pie comes together in no time, which is great for a busy weeknight or a quick dinner.

Related recipes

If you make this recipe, please scroll down and leave a rating and comment! I love to hear from you!

Tamale Pie on plate with sliced avocado and tortilla chips.

Santa Fe Tamale Pie

Seasoned ground beef nestled in a fluffy, cornmeal, "tamale" mixture.
5 from 2 votes
Print Rate
Course: Entree
Cuisine: Southwestern
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Allow to Rest: 5 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Yield: 8 cups
Author: Anecia Hero


Chili Ingredients (or use leftover chili)

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 8 oz. diced green chiles (two small cans)
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 12 oz. Chili Sauce , in the ketchup section (not "Thai Chili sauce"
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons chile powder
  • 15 ounces sweet yellow corn drained, (optional)
  • 4 oz. shredded cheddar (optional), as garnish

"Tamale" Ingredients

  • 2 cups cornmeal , yellow, all-purpose
  • 6 cups water , boiling
  • 2 cups water , cold
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 packet Sazon Goya Coriander & Annatto seasoning see recipe notes


Make the Chili (or use leftover chili)

  • In a large stock pot, heat oil to medium heat and add onions; cook for 5 minutes
    2 tablespoons oil, 1 cup chopped onion
  • Add beef to onions and cook till thoroughly brown
    2 lbs. ground beef
  • Drain reside from beef and return beef and onions to stockpot
  • Add cumin, chili powder, green chiles, corn, tomato paste and chili sauce; combine well and allow to cook for 15 minutes or until all flavors are married; taste for salt and pepper seasonings and adjust accordingly
    8 oz. diced green chiles, 1 cup tomato paste, 2 tablespoons ground cumin, 2 tablespoons chile powder, 15 ounces sweet yellow corn, 12 oz. Chili Sauce

Make the Tamale Topping

  • Bring 6 cups water to boil in large pot
    6 cups water
  • In a medium bowl, add two cups ice COLD water; pour two cups of cornmeal into cold water and combine well
    2 cups water, 2 cups cornmeal
  • Once cold water and cornmeal are combined, gradually pour mixture into HOT water
  • Add 1 teaspoon salt and Sazon Goya seasoning to cornmeal; continue to cook, constantly stirring until mixture becomes thick (about 5 minutes)- be careful! It begins to POP and bubble as it thickens!
    1 teaspoon salt, 1 packet Sazon Goya Coriander & Annatto seasoning
  • Stir constantly for 5-minutes, until mixture has thickened; remove from heat and let sit for 5-minutes
  • Spoon half of the cornmeal mixture into an ungreased pan; spoon chili mixture over cornmeal
  • Top chili with another layer of cornmeal;
    NOTE: if you want to add cheese to this recipe, sprinkle shredded cheddar over the beef mixture, then place the top cornmeal layer over the cheese
    4 oz. shredded cheddar
  • Bake at 350º F for 35-40 minutes, uncovered, until the topping is semi-firm
  • Allow to rest for five minutes before serving


  • The secret ingredient in this dish is the Sazon Goya Coriander and Annatto! It is usually found in the International or Mexican aisle in the grocer.
  • When cooking the "tamale" part, use a long-handled wooden spoon and stand back! The cornmeal mixture pops and bubbles; stir constantly for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. 
  • If you're using leftover chili, there's no need to heat it before you assemble the tamale pie! 

Nutrition Estimate

Serving: 1cupCalories: 676kcalCarbohydrates: 60gProtein: 32gFat: 35gSaturated Fat: 13gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 95mgSodium: 1445mgPotassium: 1180mgFiber: 11gSugar: 13gVitamin A: 1719IUVitamin C: 28mgCalcium: 190mgIron: 7mg
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